by Ron Dorfman

Until Illinois criminal laws were finally overhauled in 1961, conviction for sodomy, “the infamous crime against nature either with man or beast,” carried a one- to 10-year prison sentence—regardless of whether either party ejaculated!—and rendered the perpetrator “forever … incapable of holding any office of honor, trust or profit, or voting at any election, or serving as a juror … .”

Illinois became the first state in the nation to decriminalize same-sex sexual activity. That achievement owes much to the passion of Paul Goldman, a straight Chicago lawyer who had been deeply affected by discovering the suicide note of his law-school roommate. Goldman hadn't known his friend was gay; in a 1979 Student Lawyer profile of Goldman after his 50 years in the trenches, he told the writer Grant Pick he “knew nothing about homosexuals, except what I had read in toilets.” Anguish over his roommate's torment led him to devote his professional life to the legal needs of homosexuals, and when the Illinois and Chicago bar associations undertook a multi-year project to modernize and simplify the criminal laws, Goldman and the Rev. James Jones, a prominent Episcopal clergyman, led lobbying efforts to eliminate the crime of sodomy

“We weren't so much concerned about the consequences of prosecution,” Goldman said. “It was more the psychological effects the law had on ‘Joe and Jim,' who lived together for 25 years always in the shadow of the penitentiary.”

In 2003, after 35 states had followed Illinois' lead, the U.S. Supreme Court echoed Goldman's sentiment: The liberty protected by the Constitution, the court said in Lawrence v. Texas, allows “adults [ to ] choose to enter upon this relationship in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons.”

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